Meditations: In Search of Records in India

WRITER
Hidesumi Yoshimoto

“Meditations” is a Kyoto-based record shop that has an unwavering following by music enthusiasts worldwide; the shop carefully selects quality records across diverse genres and periods from various countries. The selection ranges from rare ethnic music gems, unknown psychedelic and drone music, to the latest in dance music, reggae, jazz and classical music.  

The owner of Meditations, Yoshiyuki Shioda, has been taking buying trips to India periodically to dig up various albums, many of which are little known outside of India. In this interview, he shares the musical concept of his shop and stories of his adventures.

――First off, I want to ask you about your music selection. It feels as though there is some kind of set criteria to it, regardless of the eras and genres it represents.
I have no criteria set for musical genres. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it goes beyond psychedelic and drone music, and something more along the line of music transforming the listeners; fundamentally, I look for music that further enriches lives.

――So by that you mean you go beyond a record’s rarity or popularity.
If a popular record offers something compelling, they have a place in my shop, too. But it kind of goes a level deeper than that: something about the music itself needs to resonate with me. I am sure most shop owners have a similar philosophy and I, for one, make my selections more from that place of intention.

――I feel like I keep wanting to remark on the super rare items I see here in your shop, but I also see a good selection of masterpieces: the kind of albums that we never grow tired of.
That’s true. I do have the intention of wanting to appeal to more customers, so I try to actively add more well-known artists like Bach and Lee Perry. But at the end of the day, I get a lot of requests for stuff that other shops don’t carry. So, from a business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to have my customers come all the way to buy something they could find elsewhere. Therefore, I end up with finds that are layers deeper: something that inspires and tugs at me harder.

――There are some relatively well-known foreign indie labels that want Meditations to carry their products first in Japan.
Yes. It is common that they contact me first to have me sell their products.

――There must be a lot of people browsing your homepage from abroad.
I think so. I imagine that there are a quite a few people looking at it.

――So it seems like most of your used record inventory is from India?
India is the only place I go for buying. I was going there to meditate at first, and as I visited more times and started getting into making incense, I started to see more of India’s spiritual side and the virtue of its ancient culture. After a while, I had a good collection of records, so that is when I thought I will give a record shop a try.

A photo from one of the buying trips to India. The conditions are rough for records.

――You have a wide range of Indian records - beyond rare grooves.
I am attracted to the music itself, so I didn't want to narrow down my selection there. I love the music I discover, and I love their popular music. There is intriguing children’s music, too, so I don’t really want to focus on one thing. I want to keep a wider scope for choosing records.

――So you don’t go anywhere outside of India?
I have also been going to China and Taiwan lately. I love tea, so I go there to buy tea; not records. Sometimes I buy music that I hear during my trip, to recommend to my customers who might enjoy it. I especially like the music of “guqin.” It’s a 3,000 year-old fretless instrument from China. It’s part of education there, and is also often played at tea functions. It’s not as loud and glamourous as the Japanese koto, but I enjoy it.

――I want to talk more about buying trips to India. I have heard that there are many challenges a buyer will face...
I have been going to India recently, but I am often too busy meditating and don’t get around to buying records much. [Laughs.] I am also busy making original bags and incense for the shop. Finding records in India takes a lot more time. It’s at least a 10 day trip; making my rounds to all the places. There are no record shops to begin with, so I have to visit the people I know. On top of that, the chances of finding good music that’s in mint condition is very slim.

――It must be pretty hard to find good quality there, considering the extreme weather and high humidity.
They are stored in poor conditions, and the towns themselves are dusty, so I find a lot of dust in the grooves of the records. And of course, when I go to a different province, the language and music change, so I can’t go visit only one place.

――Like the difference between northern and southern India, each region presents totally different traditional music and even film music.
Indeed. The music from the northern parts are more appreciated by my customers, but I also like the music from the south and other regions, so at the end, I have to go to every major city - that takes time. And don’t even get me started on how long it takes to ship all of that!

The records are often stored in poor conditions. One home was so small that while Mr. Shioda was looking through the records, the whole family had to wait outside.

――The time it takes for shipping?
Yes, the shipping. Just to get it to the post office can take a half day. It starts with looking for boxes, since they don’t sell them at stores. I buy them from “scrap dealers,” people who find and collect only cardboard. [Chuckles.] Good boxes like the ones used by DHL are too expensive. People who are familiar with India know about this, but, after packing is done, the whole box needs to be wrapped in cloth and sewn up, and on top of that, the post office won’t take it from you unless you seal it with candle wax. So peculiar! [Laughs.]

――And even after you make a huge effort to wrap it right, more hurdles await you at the post office, correct?
I think if I give them bakshish (tips), it works every time. They usually demand it anyway when it gets complicated. [Laughter.] I got my passport stolen the other time; it was so much harder than I could have ever imagined. On the one hand, it's a pretty relaxed country, but when it comes to paperwork, they give you the runaround like no other. I just couldn’t believe the amount of documents they made me turn in - it was SO hard. Also, getting sick; you just can’t help it. No matter how many times I go, I am not completely immune to it.

An old man that Mr. Shioda met on one of his buying trips. He also fixes record players and other gadgets.

――It sounds like some test of endurance...
There are no price tags, either, so I have to bargain each time: adding to the pain. It usually starts at twice the expected price. [Laughs.] It’s everyday practice for them. “I am selling you something so precious!” “But I am not able to sell this at this price.” “Ok, then let’s meet at the middle.” I have to repeat that for every record. Some people are not cut out for that kind of exchange. Also, the sellers follow you even after you say no; they keep trying to make a deal without bringing down the price! [Laughs.]

――Despite all of that, you still find the allure in going back to India?
For sure. Despite all of that, there are many parts of it that I find impressive. I am certain that India is the best country to do spiritual work in - meditation as well as other practices. It is a very chaotic place, mostly for the same reasons, but one can choose to see it as a learning opportunity. All of my personal issues that I need to overcome are just manifested in the form of people that are complicated and troublesome. Based on their culture, people see beautiful things and dirty things as equal. If you can find some meaning in that - you will also find India to be an incredible country.

At Meditations, the records have very little product information added to them; Shioda-san wishes that the customers themselves can feel inspired even before they buy the record.

――I see. Finally, can you give us three picks from the records you have brought back from India?
The first one is Indian Classical Whistle by K. Siva Prasad. He whistles the melodies of traditional music of southern India. This record is very rare and it’s so good. The next one, Concanim Hits by Chris Perry And A Host Of Stars, is done by a musician from the state of Goa where they speak Konkani. He adds a touch of modern western music to the sound. The Ananda Shankar And His Music by Ananda Shankar is well-known in the rare groove genre and the records made in India have a denser sound.

Indian Classical Whistle by K. Siva Prasad (1985) 

Concanim Hits by Chris Perry And A Host Of Stars (1971)

Ananda Shankar And His Music by Ananda Shankar (1975)

Meditations

Meditations
Location: (3F of Kasuga BLDG.)
253-3 Kamigyo-ku, Demizucho, Kyoto, Japan 602-0832
Tel: Calls within Japan: 075-241-2221 (International Calls: +81-75-241-2221
Hours: 12:00pm - 9pm. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
http://www.meditations.jp/

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